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The Assignment 44

The Assignment 44

June 22, 2010

The Assignment 44

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Blog

September 24, 2009

I was listening to Webcomics weekly and their interview with Merlin Mann. Towards the end he proposed a great question that got me thinking I should ask all 800 of you guys. Having read the books on the site and you were me what 1 thing would you do differently. Gimme the straight dope. I want to know. Truly, let me know.

http://bit.ly/B7pLa

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SCAMMER ALERT!

August 20, 2009

While, as the title suggests, the majority of this post will deal with scammers and how to spot them it will also wonder into collaborator territory as well.  Many of the red flags for scammers are also, sadly, red flags for individuals who’d be poor collaborators. First a bit of back story….

…I was recently involved with Rich Johnston in cracking another of Josh Hoopes’ scam IDs. If you’re wondering who Hoopes is dig around on Bleeding Cool and see for yourself.  In fact, it was Rich’s intitial posts on the guy that tipped me off and prompted me to contact Rich Johnston about the new alias. After reading all of Johnston’s posts about the guy (it never hurts to be prepared) I noticed that my e-mail communications with an artist was following a familiar script.

From Joseph Jenkins (aka Josh Hoopes) dated July 15th

Well I’m right back into the art world after many years of raising a family and working in sales.

Kids are bigger and sales aren’t so good so now a days so I am here giving it my all.
Bare with me as this whole blog, my space art links are new, I used to just send everything the old fashioned way so here it goes.
I got your E-mail address because my friend/agent gathered a bunch of guy’s who are looking to hire comic artist/Illustrators.
I have also sent my stuff to Image, Dark Horse, Marvel and DC, but those guy’s make me go through a grueling process, so in the mean time I am seeing what’s out there.
Take a look at some of my work. I pencil and ink so that’s never and issue.
If you like what you see please get back to me.
Joseph.
This was a blind submission sent to me long after I had resolved my search for a new penciler on Light Storm. (Chuck George BTW and he’s Awesome  new pages tomorrow!) I was bored and decided to check the submission. The art was top notch. In fact, it was a little too good to be true. (RED FLAG NUMBER 1) and this query letter struck me a little too much like the ones I knew Josh Hoopes sent out to run his Art Adam’s scam.
Hey there up and comers and Indy publishers………          I know you guys are familiar with my work but are wondering what am I doing applying? Not that I’m applying as i am offering the chance at using my services for a limited time for a very reduced rate. My good friend and agent both agreed to do this for a select few through out the different talent sites. Those with new and good stories. For those not familiar with my work can find me. Art Adams art on various different web sites. Any questions let me know. commisions

Art Adams
P.S as well those chosen few will get a spotlight in an upcoming issue of WIZARD MAG!!

A known/forgotten artistic talent has decided to contract at lower rates/step back into the industry, and they’re willing to offer me reduced rates? To top it off they sought ME out I must be big time now. NO, I’m not big time, I’m just the target of a scammer. Trust me, there are enough struggling writers out there that artists NEVER have to look for work. Writers find them not the other way around.  That goes doubly so for Art Adams. When something like this happens to you slow your heart down and think. The scammer depends on you NOT thinking. They want you to get excited, so excited you’ll do any damn thing they say, including paying up front.

RED FLAG #2 They care more about the cash

“Wow……….Yes I have heard of the Zuda before, sounds good. You mind if I ask what’s the pay?? Sorry if that seems forward as I am trying to make ends meet for my family of 7.”
Joe
Here’s one of the red flags that applies not only to scammers but bad collaborators. They care more about the pay than the project. I don’t have a problem with people wondering if they’ll be paid, that’s only natural. It’s when they don’t even care if the project is something they’d want to do, all they care about is the $. In a collaborator you want an individual that cares about the project in some way: it’s challenging, they love the main character, etc. A good collaborator wants to contribute to the overall narrative of the story. If you work with someone who only cares about the money you’ll get the souless, uninspired, work of a mercenary. Argue with me all you want, but I can tell when an artist loves what they’re doing at the time and when they’re pushing a pencil for a paycheck. You want the prior.
“Wow……….Yes I have heard of the Zuda before, sounds good. You mind if I ask what’s the pay?? Sorry if that seems forward as I am trying to make ends meet for my family of 7.
Joe “
Again second email from him. he’s more concerned about the pay he doesn’t care what the project is. This is a theme carried through all my communications with him and bad collaborators more concern over money than project. Again let me reiterate I am OK with people taking care of business but the order you place your questions in tells me your priorities. If money is your first priority I won’t work with you. Not because I am cheap, but because your heart is not in it.
Now something you can do to protect yourself from scammers further is to get them to give you as much personal information as possible. A phone number, mailing address, etc. Verify who they are and where they live. A quick Google search of their name can also bring up loads of info. IF you suspect they’re scammers try to catch them in a lie. Trust is imperative in any collaboration, but especially in internet based collaborations. IF they’re lying to you about something don’t work with them. Life is too short, and there are plenty of brilliant, trustworthy artists out there. You can see a few of them on this website. I hope this has helped and I’ll…
See You in Seven!

Categories: Pushing LeadNo Comments

Paying the bills

July 10, 2009

We’re going to take a break from our regularly scheduled blog for a brief commercial.  As I mentioned in an earlier post I don’t make money off this site.  It’s supposed to be my online portfolio for any interested editors.  The artists DO make money off this site though. In fact, they get a profit share from the merch profits and an equal share of ad revenue. So I’m not really asking this favor for me as much as for them. I’m not asking for subscriptions I am just asking that if you like what’s here click some adds.  Make our advertisers pay for your “subscription.”

RandRComics needs your help!!! Rewards for your for assistance!!!!

1) Join our facebook group.

2) Get a twitter account and follow us on twitter

3) Populate your twitter network with loving praise of www.RandRcomics.com

4) Support the sites who support us.

5) Love Comics? Buy one of our suggested titles from the amazon store.

6) If you have a Stumble Upon Account help us out and positively rate the site it’ll increase traffic.

WHEN YOU TWEET US be sure to use @RnRcomics here’s why.

When you @rnrcomics us you get dropped into a drawing for some free swag. Winners can choose their goods from. http://www.cafepress.com/RandRComics pick one and choose wisely. This will be every month so keep coming back for free swag!

Categories: Pushing Lead2 Comments

Mr. Forsby, We Hardly Knew Ye.

June 26, 2009

Hey everyone, Anthony Peruzzo here- artist on “Tales From the Looking Glass” and “Bob Sly, PI”. I thought I would talk a bit about TFLG, “The Electric Wonderoom”. This story was actually completed back in April of 2008 (seems much longer than that). It was part of a pitch Jamie and I submitted to various publishers. It was also my first attempt at a [Dark] ‘humor’ comic.

Before TFLG, EW I was more interested in horror and crime genres. Jamie saw my work online and contacted (rather pleaded) ["politely asked"] with me to work with him. I’m not sure what he saw in my work that convinced him I would be perfect for a story with roots in Ray Bradberry mixed with Looney Tunes. I’ll admit, I was not very interested at first, but he’s a persistent guy. [This is correct]

He quickly sent me the completed script. It needed work. I sent back a number of suggestions to Jamie, thinking I’d never hear from him again. [Fat chance!] I think the next day he sent me a fully revised script. It STILL needed work. He sent me another revision. I still wasn’t sure I was right for the story, but I wanted to challenge myself in a direction I would never have previously thought about doing. So I agreed to do a few pages for a pitch.

These are the first sketches/concepts I made for the characters:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/floatingheadcomics/2037766681/in/set-72157603212029061/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/floatingheadcomics/2037766641/in/set-72157603212029061/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/floatingheadcomics/2038564238/in/set-72157603212029061/

I remember having a bit of trouble with Mrs Forsby. She needed to look pretty, but still remain a “mom”. I settled on a more Martha Stewart version:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/floatingheadcomics/2047256765/in/set-72157603212029061/

Categories: Artist's Alley, BlogNo Comments

And now…the MAIN EVENT!

June 24, 2009

Script writing! That’s right boys and gals we’ll be learning format.

WOOT ! WOOT!

I thought you’d be excited. So how do you write a script? well, the first thing I did was visit Dark Horse Comics and download and read the PDF detailing their particular format. Is it the best format? Well, really what works for you and your artist is the best format. however, if you’re going to submit a script to Dark Horse for consideration you’d better follow their format. It’s the first indicator to them that you care enough about being printed at Dark Horse to take the extra step of reformatting your script.

This PDF hits all the right notes and covers the big stuff.  I’ll try and make wha follows a complimentary document.

1) BE KIND TO YOUR LETTERER

We haven’t really discussed yet much about the letterer.  They’re the unsung heroes of comics. The writer and artist tend to get a majority of the glory, but the letterer has a profound effect on the end product as well.  For instance, he could cover up the art in sound effects and word balloons and there’s also the obvious contribution of providing all the dialogue to the book. Richard Starkings (owner of Comic craft and letterer extraorindaire) has provided a great list of resources about this particular topic. His book is in my opinion the deffinitive source on this particular phase of comic production.

Back to the script and how it effects letterers NEVER WRITE DIALOGUE IN ALL CAPS. This is because there are now letterers who use fonts which appear to be all caps, but capital letters are actually a little bit taller than their lower case counterparts.  If you type in all caps your letterer will have to manually adjust all the text so his work will look right. He will hate you for making him do this. If he’s one of the guys that really prefers to letter in truly all caps. He’ll have a font that automatically upscales all your lower case dialogue.  So, save everyone some time and never type in all caps.

but so and so said…

They’re wrong, save yourself the headache.

2) BE KIND TO YOUR ARTIST

This is another key to a healthy collaboration. DO NOT force them to create intensely detailed art in every panel if you want to get your art anywhere near the deadline. In your panel descriptions give them just enough to establish the mood you want and help them understand the location, but allow them the freedom to determine what level of detail the scene needs. Just as how last week we talked about how you need to be frugal with your text, the artist needs to also be frugal with his art. Empowering him to do that starts in your panel descriptions. A good rule of thumb is to only describe what’s important to the story. I also try to order my panel descriptions so that the order I describe things is the order I want the audience to notice them. Whether the artist consciously picks up on this or not I don’t know, but I have enjoyed the results I’ve gotten since I started using this trick.

This has been a short entry, but this is a very straight forward topic.  The script format is designed to keep things simple so you can keep focusing on what’s important- your story. So write out some pages. get a feel for your characters and come back next week as we continue to discuss some of the finer points.

See you in seven!

Categories: Pushing LeadNo Comments

Music of the Page

June 16, 2009

SO! We have come to it, we have our, title, theme, sources of conflict, character interviews, and a broad strokes outline (pitch) for the new opus we’re about to unleash on the world.  All that’s left is the hard part, writing the script.

You said all this prep work would make the writing easy.

No, I said it’d make it easier, there is a difference. Writing is an incredibly involved process which only time and practice can improve. Writing for comics is difficult, because this is where craft becomes more important.  Writing traditional prose (books, etc) doesn’t require the economy of words that a script does. Also, you have to be constantly aware of what the final page will look like when you’re finished AND you have to understand pacing.

What do you mean by pacing?

The best comics are those where the reader forgets he’s reading, pacing is what accomplishes that lofty goal. I would define it as the writer’s control over how the reader experiences the flow of time in your book. In his, Comics and Sequential Art Will Eisner makes the point that a page of comic can only contain a certain amount of time. The panels on the page are a portion of that time and the gutters (space between the panels) constitutes the time between each moment. The number of panels (moments) is typically decided by the writer who knows what are the most important moments for the story. What moments you show determine how long a reader will linger on a page, what additional details they’ll absorb, and how they’ll perceive the action occurring on the page. That is pacing. It’s a powerful tool and how you use it will have a potent affect on how your story will be recived.

Maybe we should spend more time on it then if it’s so important.

You’re right we should.  Let’s use a favorite tool of mine the ANALOGY!! Consider a piece of music, any piece it doesn’t matter. As you leaf through the pages of the composition note how each page has staves of music and each staff is comprised of a series of bars. Inside each bar is a sequence of notes. For our purposes each note is a panel on a page and each bar of music is a page itself. These all add up to tell a greater story or mood the composer wanted to convey. He has carefully chosen notes that alter the pacing of the music and thus affect mood.  Say he wanted an ominous mood he might choose a deep whole note held out uncomfortably long.

You must be the composer, choose panels which tell the story you want and convey the mood as well.  Remember you can make color suggestions in your script as well or just say, “this page should feel sad.” Leave it to your artist, who is better versed in the language of color to express what you desire in the story, but you have control over the timing of the story.

A rule of thumb I like to follow is:

Whole note: Splash page, put as much dialogue as you like in there. These pages are used as a big shocking reveal or a desire to show an intense moment (ex a long kiss “goodbye.”)

Quarter note: Standard 1/4-1/6th page panel. No more than 25 words /panel (stolen from Alan Moore)

Eighth Note: Smalller panels, no dialogue there is simply not enough room. These panels are reserved for fight scenes or anytime a fast frenetic action is taking place.

So this is all there is to pacing?

I am afraid not. We haven’t even talked about the flow between pages. We’ve just covered (broadly) pacing for a single page. In order to get a real comfort level for your audience pacing needs to exist between each page as well. Typically you want to end each page with a panel that carries the energy over into the next page. Another way to do this is with imagery making the image from the final panel relate to the first on the next page. For example Iron comes in complains about how damaged his suit is. On the next page Pepper Potts is ironing his suit for a big business meeting.   not the best example I know, but I think it illustrates the point. You can also link dialogue into the next page to promote page turning.  This typically works well for reveals, “Luke, I am your…” turn the page “…father.” There are countless ways to acccomplish this linking of pages. It’s best to review your favorite books and see how the writers you enjoy accomplish this.  Another excellent source is Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics from Avatar Press. It’s a brilliant collection of essays where one of the masters shares his thought on “writing for comics.”

There is so much experimentation you can do with pacing and visual metaphor that you really should take time and experiment with it. You’ll feel more comfortable with your writing and I think that confidence will turn into better stories down the line.

Reccomendations for this week:

Writing for Comics, Alan Moore

Comics and Sequential Art, Will Eisner

Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud

See you in Seven!

Jamie


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Work at the next level with 3D Reference

June 16, 2009

It was difficult for me to think of a topic for my first article. So I started thinking about what I have learned from trial and error that might help you with your own comics.

The first thing that came to mind was the difficulty I was having with the severe lighting I chose for the first scene in Pound of Flesh. I have a day job and have to work on my comics at night, so I don’t have time to labor over each panel for hours. Never the less, I found myself struggling to get the shadows right on each panel.

In my quest to find some reference to help I tried things like posing action figures but that required that I light them similarly to the look that I wanted in the panel. My desk is small & every second I spent struggling to light & pose my action figures was a second I wasn’t drawing.

Finally I hit on a solution that worked for me.

I use 3D studio Max in my work as a motion graphics artist so I quickly whipped up a very simple “figure” made out of cylinders & spheres. It looks similar to a wooden artist’s manikin. It only took me about 15 minutes to make my figure. I then posed & lit the manikin how I wanted & rendered a quick jpg. This allows me to quickly visualize roughly how shadows will fall. I just use this as a guide & take a lot of artistic license with it. Don’t be a slave to your reference.

I also tried a pre-rigged 3D human male model that was a lot more realistic but I found it very limiting. It was difficult avoid drawing the model if it is too realistic. Using a simple manikin means I can get a basic reference for how the shadows fall without my drawing looking like the model.

Once I had my manikins posed I found myself rotating the camera around looking at different angles & I realized that I could use this to quickly explore a variety of camera angles & also to get reference for difficult perspective & foreshortening too. As a result, the speed & quality of my work have increased. Any 3D software will work fine for this kind of simple reference or “previs”.

If you don’t want to spend money on 3D software I recommend a free, open source program called Blender. It is a fully functional 3D software absolutely for free. Check it out at http://www.blender.org/

I hope this was helpful. If so or if you have any tips to add, please leave a comment and if you haven’t already, read Pound of Flesh right here at R and R Comics.

-Jack Cottle, Artist on Pound of Flesh
article_jack01

Categories: Artist's AlleyNo Comments

…and the PITCH!

June 9, 2009

So we have a theme, characters, sources of conflict based upon theme, and an in depth understanding of our characters and how they relate to the world around them. What’s next? It’s the pitch of course. The pitch is now a broad look at what your story will be. Now what is your story? To quote the great Robert McKee, “Story is what happens when plot and characters meet.” What does the great man mean by that? Well you have a character, a cream pie hits him in the face and he remembers that’s how his dad died so he leads a one man mission to ban cream pies.  See what just happened? That sentence has (for our purposes) three pieces.

1) “Well you have a character,” CHARACTER

2) “a cream pie hits him in the face” PLOT or INCITING INCIDENT

3) “and he remembers that’s how his dad died so he leads a one man mission to ban cream pies.” STORY

Plot is just what happens to a character. It’s how the character reacts that creates the story.  If you want to get really specific, in this example it’s called the inciting incident.  The inciting incident is something that happens to a character which forces him to make a life altering decision. In a way YOU don’t create the story, the character does. Now, aren’t you glad we did all those character interviews? Through your intense character knowledge you can now create a story with great depth around a central theme and with a minimum of cliché. Preferably you’d have no cliché, but I think a little is OK. Especially in comics, where you only have 22 pages and can’t take too long to establish a narrative.  The reader needs something to latch onto and cliché helps them establish a broad understanding of the character.

For example, Bob Sly, PI is an obvious riff on the old detective noir stories. The world weary detective complete with fedora and trench coat is a little clichéd, but it lets people know what they’re in for. If I had the Silver Surfer hanging out in Rolo’s and playing intergalactic match maker people’d be disappointed, because the Silver Surfer has a look which screams action adventure.  Cliché can work for you, just don’t abuse it.

This tirade helps my pitch how?

The pitch will be a broad strokes picture of what is going to happen in your book.  Knowing the genre you’re writing will help you identify some of the clichés you’ll use to hook the reader and help them ease into the type of story you’re telling. The easier you can make it for the reader the better off you’ll be.

The hardest part of any pitch is finding that economy of language.  You want to say just enough to cover the story points, without getting long winded. I often struggle with it. I want to write a descriptive piece that shows my vision for the whole project, but I can’t. There’s a place for description and open ended questions and we call it a script. The pitch is the foundation from which you’ll build the rest of your story. Look at a foundation of a home sometime.   Is it very exciting? No. It’s typically a collection of cinder blocks or poured concrete. Grey bland boring concrete, but on top of it is a building with exciting embellishments, paint, decorative siding, planter boxes with flowers, etc. Your pitch is the foundation, and the script is the rest of the house. Keep it simple and sturdy and we’ll see how it goes.

So how do you pitch?

I’ll provide an example here.  it’s a pitch I’ve worked and reworked and I am happy with it.It’s been posted elsewhere so I don’t mind sharing it here.

“Mom, look at me. I can’t explain it right now, but you don’t have to worry any more; I have a purpose.”
-Jason David

“Bastion” Ongoing

Jason David is a prisoner in his own body, until he bonds with a mystic artifact. Now Jason cannot only walk, he can fly! Paralyzed in a car accident involving his mother at the age of five, Jason has always felt like a burden on the world. Now, eight years later, his father has discarded him alongside his mother as they vainly struggle to achieve a sense of normalcy with one another.

Chosen by a mystic emissary he becomes the Bastion, barer of the Conduit, a small golden chip fitted into his sternum. This object has immediate benefits: perfect health—eliminating his paralysis—and a golden exoskeleton forms around him at his choosing. Lost in his newfound freedom, it never occurs to Jason to wonder what other changes may be happening inside him.

The conduit is more than a tool, it’s the indestructible passage to Hell, and only the pure of heart stand a chance of resisting the dark calls of the Conduit as it seeks it freedom. Making this young man the sole defender of the mortal realm from that of the damned. That is, for as long as he survives.

In the dark recesses of the world there are those who know of the Conduit’s existence, many who would use it for their own selfish ends. One such individual is Abbadona, the penitent angel. A reluctant member of Lucifer’s hordes, she seeks the Conduit to destroy it hoping she may purchase her way into haven in the act, even if it means killing Jason in the process.

Jason must find a way to tame the source of his power; all the while defending himself and those he loves from the dark minions seeking to claim its power.

In a few brief paragraphs I establish, character, conflict and story based around a theme of freedom wrapped in a “coming of age” story. I’ll leave you this week with some great links. Check em out!

“Sell Your Pitch” by: Lee Nordling (Former EIC of Platinum Studios and all around wiseman) Read and reread these articles they are an excellent resource on the art of pitching.

Part 1: http://www.comicsbulletin.com/wolfman/106478386819087.htm

Part 2: http://www.comicsbulletin.com/wolfman/106538301215335.htm

Part 3: http://www.comicsbulletin.com/wolfman/10659851965461.htm

See you in seven!

Categories: Pushing LeadNo Comments

The Heart of Good Story

June 2, 2009

So it’s been a long week.  Doubtlessly you now have a whole notebook chock full of ideas and you’re well practiced getting to the heart and theme of each of these stories.  What do you do with them now?  Write a script? No. we’re not quite there yet. We need to understand our story more. I know you want to get into script format and just get busy cracking but believe me what we do upfront will help immensely down the line.

We have the broadest of ideas, perhaps a list of characters and the source of their conflict amongst one another. All-in-all this is a great start, but now we need to iron out the wrinkles and get a firmer grasp on our characters. Characters, after all, are the heart of any good story.  Characters make the audience care. A great analogy was shared with me by a good friend and I’ll share it with you now.

Imagine your theme is a brilliantly cut massive ruby. Now place a flashlight under that gem.  See how each facet of the gem throws the light in a different direction? Each character represents a certain facet of your theme. As individuals they are divergent, but they combine to make the whole theme (or the gem) evident. Your story is the flashlight, it’s what draws attention to the theme.

Nice analogy. I really want to write something though.

OK, let’s try this. In his book, “An Actor Prepares” Stanislavsky speaks about how proper understanding of the character is key to a believable performance. One of the most potent tools for understanding a character is the interview.  A list of 100 character questions which cover every aspect of their life from socio-economic standing to the color of their eyes.  A great example can be found here.  Check it out, I’ll wait.

WHOA! WHOA! WHOA! I have to do one of these interviews for each character?

Yes.  You don’t have to answer all the questions but you do need to answer some of them.  I typically break it down this way: Leads (80-100 questions) supporting (30-50 questions) Set dressing (1-15 questions).

Do I really have to do all this?

Well, the answer to that all depends on whether you want to write a great story with great characters and powerful drama or just another broad strokes, cliched, comic story editors see everyday and dismiss just as quickly. It’s your choice.  Like all things in life you’ll get out what you put into it.  It’s go time, you have to decide between writing comics and just talking about writing comics. This is your craft and not everyone is meant to do it.  Take it seriously or go home.

It’s also worth considering that all this preparatory work will typically be required of you anyway. Go ahead and do it now.  Use it to write a great pitch and get cracking.  That way when someone asks for all this homework you can just hand it in and keep moving.

Waitaminute! you just said two weeks ago the old way of soliciting work is broken.  Why I am learning how to pitch to an editor if, like you said, they won’t see me without any previous credits?

A fair enough question and here’s the answer.  What an editor will require of you is what any writer knows they should do anyway. Whether this is a pitch to an editor or a “story bible” for your comic it’s work you have to do. Even if no one but you will ever see it. Not to mention the fact that this work will enhance the quality of your final product. A product you’re producing to get the attention of said editor.  Again, if it’s the same old cliches they’ll ignore it and you. Do yourself a favor and do your homework.

OK dad I guess you have a point.

Glad to see you’re coming around. It can be tough, I know, but if this was easy everyone would be doing it. We’ll get to scripts relatively soon. I want to make sure though when you get to that point you’ll write something really well that you can be proud of and put together a submission packet or do your own thing with it. I don’t want to see you invest the effort into your script which you then read and are forced to admit to yourself it’s just self indulgent drivel.  I’ve done that. It’s no fun and the memory of that script haunts me in my dreams.  One day I’ll go back a rewrite the whole damn thing, but for now it’ll have to wait. So will you for another seven days. In the meantime work on your character interviews.   Create some great characters we’ll all love.

See you in seven!


Categories: Pushing Lead2 Comments

Writing: The Idea

May 26, 2009

Hello again and welcome back!

As promised we’ll be talking about writing today.  Don’t touch your keyboards yet.  Most of the work we’ll be doing today will be up in your noggin.

“How do you get your ideas?” is the stock question at every comic convention and writers panel. It’s longevity can be accredited to the fact that regardless of how many times it’s asked everyone has a different answer.  However a common answer to this quetion is, “Depends.” It really does depend on the creator and they all dip into a myriad of different sources to stoke the creative fires.  Personally, I find inspiration at NPR. Their stories always touch on various topics and subjects, and their viewpoint often tends to be fairly unique with some excellent observations. I am also a huge history buff so I dip into that well for some concepts I like to explore.  My most potent source of inspiration comes from none other than Ray Bradbury himself.

In his book, “Zen and the Art of Writing” he mentions an excellent exercise.  Take an egg timer, turn it to 30 seconds and for that time period write down as many unique word combinations as possible.  Don’t think about them just write.  Let it all come out of you.  When the timer expires you should have around twenty or so combinations.  Many will be simple nonsense, but a few will jump out at you.   Take those off to the side and explore them a little deeper. Go into self analysis mode and ask yourself, “What makes this interesting to me?” Is it the words themselves or does the phrase strike an old memory of yours? Then figure out the significance of that phrase. Once you have that you have a story idea.

Many, MANY writers have epic concepts, themes and ideas, but each one can always be boiled down to a sentence.  The ability to be able to do this is one of the toughest and most valuable skills you can have, because when it comes time to pitch your project you’ll need to be able to answer the question, “What is your story really about?” This theme is the touchstone you can always refer back to while writing.  It keeps you on target and prevents you becoming bogged down in details.

But I’m a writer I want to write something!!

OK, grab some paper and write your theme at the top. You can even write it backwards on your forehead if that’s what it takes to stay aware of what your story will be about. This is the most important part of your story.   Without it, you’re simply jumping from one plot point to another and your audience will pick up on it.

Nonsense!

You ever see a film and when it was over you were left with a, “meh” sort of feeling?

Yeah I saw Jumper err I mean, yeah.

I will bet you if you go back and analyze that story you’ll find either a lack of unifying theme or one so pushed into the background you were never quite aware of it to begin with. You have to keep this theme in the foreground of your mind.  Use your story as a method to analyze your theme from as many perspectives as possible and assign each viewpoint to a character.  WHAM! You’ve got the key to good drama; conflict. Not only that but conflict which centers around your theme.  It feels natural in the context of the story because it is natural.

Time for the real life example. With this exercise I one day wrote the phrase, “The Electric Wonderoom.” It sounded bad ass to me so I went into self analysis.  I’ve never encountered an electric wonderoom in real life so personal experience was no good to me. Then I started wondering what an electric wonderoom could be.  I won’t tell you my answer since it’s our first “Tales From the Looking Glass” story. It definitely sounded like something everyone would want, and there was my theme; consumerism. Everyone wants one so they’re willing to do anything to get one, including suffocate a condemned man with a banana.  This is something someone would kill for, the ultimate shiny bauble. Well what are the consequences of consumerism? Aha! conflict and plot emerging from the ether of my brain.  With those answers in hand I began writing what remains one of my favorite stories. In five minutes I had a: title, theme, plots, and characters. Not a bad exercise eh?

next week: Characters!

See you in seven!

Categories: Pushing Lead4 Comments